How to handle the food arrangement of your Filipino domestic helper(s)?

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What does the contract say about food?

5(b).  "The Employer shall provide the helper with suitable and furnished accommodation as per the attached Schedule of Accommodation and Domestic Duties and food free of charge. If no food is provided, a food allowance of HK$1053 a month shall be paid to the helper."

In the past few years, I worked in a Filipino helpers agent, to coach helpers, employers and handle employer-helper conflicts. I am surprised to find out that lack of food is the most common reason for a helper to quit. It is because employers and helpers’ interpretation of the meaning of “ providing food” are different. These conflicting understandings lead to many actual conflicts and premature terminations.

 Common Conflicts on Food

 Hong Kong Employers     

  • Eat 3 meals per day, i.e. breakfast, lunch, dinner.
  • Assume they are reasonable employers because they provide the helper's food for breakfast, lunch, dinner. Believe that the helpers should buy their own snacks.
  • Think helpers should eat whatever the employer provides.
  • Feel offended if a helper asks for food allowance, think the helpers
  • has no right to ask for that.
  • Some employers want their helpers to eat healthily, while some employers do not care about the nutritional value of the food provided to the helpers & provide the poor nutritional value food, e.g. instant noodle, congee, canned food, leftovers, food from fast food stores etc.
  • employers think all helpers should know where to find something to eat. If a helper does not know what and when to eat, she should ask the employer.                        

Filipino Domestic Helpers

  • Eat 5-7 times per day breakfast, lunch, dinner AND  afternoon tea +/- morning snack before breakfast, morning tea, night snack.
  • Assume their employer will provide food whenever she is hungry, that means provide 5-7 meals per day, including snacks.  
  • Some may dislike the food their employers provide.
  • If the employer fails to provide them with enough food OR if they dislike the food provided, they will ask for the "food allowance". They do not want to have conflicts with employers over food and this seems to them a reasonable alternative.
  • Some helpers don't worry about health, they just buy whatever is affordable and familiar But some helpers like to eat healthily and eat fresh food, dislike the food left overnight, canned food and instant noodle.
  • Some helpers are hungry because of they do not know what/when to eat, or they are afraid to eat if the employer does not tell her what to eat. Filipinos are shy to ask question
  • related to food.

How to avoid/resolve conflicts over food

During the interview,

  • ask applicants if they have dietary restrictions and state clearly what you expect the food arrangements will be.
  • If they are unhappy with the food, will you consider giving them a food allowance instead? If so, tell them so when you confirm to hire them.

If you choose to provide food,

  • please state clearly what kind of food she can eat, what kind of food she cannot eat without your permission, what and when to eat for breakfast, lunch, if they need to wait for your permission before they can eat.
  • Helpers should not be picky about the food provided by the employer. At the same time, if employers should encourage their helpers to tell if the food is not enough. Tell them clearly that you want them to have enough food to eat, enough energy to work, do not be shy.

  • Provide some snacks at home, so the helper can eat when they feel hungry, and inform you when they are lack of stock.

If you choose to give a food allowance,

  • please give the allowance at the beginning of the month, not at the end of the month, so they have money to buy food. Let your helper signed for receiving the allowance.
  • Respect their choice of food.   Some employers and helpers like to eat healthily, some employers and helpers do not care if the food is healthy. If you give your helpers food allowance, it is okay to advise them to eat healthily, but at the same time, please respect their choice of food.
  • state clearly after giving the food allowance, will you let her use any ingredients/food, like salt, oil, rice, where she can store her food.

Summary

It is good for employers either to provide their helpers with food or food allowance, as long as employers set the rules clearly.

Learn more insights on how to manage a Filipino worker by attending our Employer Orientation Class (僱主裝備班). You will learn about the common problems that arise between employers and helpers and how to prevent and resolve them.